Sunday’s matchup with the Niners might be the 100th Patriots game Jim Nantz has called in his broadcasting career. Or it might not.
An explanation: The website 506sports.com maintains historical lists of announcers and the games they have called.
Intrepid reader Lance Harris used its data to create a fascinating spreadsheet of all the announcers that have called Patriots games on television through the years, postseason included.
(Shockingly, Don Criqui and Beasley Reece did not call 100 Patriots games in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It just seemed that way.)
Based on the wealth of information Harris mined, Nantz will hit the century mark when he and Tony Romo go live from Foxborough on CBS at 4:25 p.m.
In a phone conversation Thursday, however, Nantz thought he might have actually hit the milestone a year or two ago, recalling that he asked someone at CBS about it when he thought the total was in the high 90s. He’s called several more Patriots games since then, including Weeks 1, 3, and 5 this season.
“It could be a 100 now,” said Nantz, who has called more Patriots games than any other national play-by-play voice, with Al Michaels checking in second on Harris’s list (64), followed by Greg Gumbel (57) and, yes, Criqui (54). “But we might be a few past that at this point. If that triple-digit mark hasn’t been cleared already, it is cool knowing it is coming up Sunday.”
What Nantz recalls clearly — and what does jibe with Harris’s and 506sports.com’s data and research — is the first Patriots game he called, when he was in his first full season as one of CBS’s NFL broadcasters and the New England franchise was anything but a dynasty.
“October 20, 1991,” recalled Nantz, getting the date exactly right. The Patriots, on their way to a 6-10 season under coach Dick MacPherson, beat the Vikings in Week 8.
I mentioned to Nantz I thought the Patriots had won on a last-second field goal by kicker Jason Staurovsky, who had missed an extra point and a short field goal earlier in the game, prompting the ever-positive MacPherson to tell the kicker he loved him no matter what before the winning attempt.
Nantz recalled something I did not — that the winning kick actually came as the clock expired in overtime. The game would have ended in a tie had Staurovsky missed.
“I called that game with Hank Stram,” said Nantz, who is best known for his partnerships on CBS’s top NFL broadcasting team with Phil Simms and now Romo. “Hank was such a great man.”
Stram is probably best known to the more recent generations of football fans as the nattily dressed, amusingly chatty coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in vintage NFL Films productions about the early Super Bowls. He coached the Chiefs from 1960-74, winning three AFL championships and Super Bowl IV.
Nantz says Stram had the same characteristics as a broadcaster for which his current partner Romo has drawn plaudits.
“He had an uncanny knack for pre-snap calls, like Tony,” said Nantz. “He just had that eye for it, and I’d never seen anything like it. Of course, Tony reminded me of that right away. You always had to leave the room before the ball was snapped for Hank to kind of foreshadow what was going to happen.”
Stram retired from broadcasting in 1994 when Fox outbid CBS for the NFC package. His former broadcast partner advocated for years for him to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He had six of his players that were in ahead of him. For whatever reason, there were some voters on the Hall of Fame committee who didn’t think he deserved it. I would write letters and round up letters from other people, this and that.”
Stram was finally elected in 2003. He was in the throes of Alzheimer’s by then.
“I sat with the family in Canton,” said Nantz, who lost his father, Jim, to Alzheimer’s in 2008, three years after Stram died. “Hank sat on the stage. He was not in any condition to stand up and be able to make a speech, so they recorded him and played his video, and I went up to him after the ceremony and gave him a kiss on the forehead. He looked at me like he knew I was someone in his life that he cared about, but couldn’t quite place who it was.”
Nantz mentioned another moment from that 1991 season as one relevant to Sunday’s broadcast.
“I also called Bill Belichick’s first game as Browns coach that year with Hank,” said Nantz. “It was Cleveland against Dallas. I asked Bill about it recently, asked him if he happened to remember who the announcers were for his first game.”
Nantz laughs. “He didn’t know.”
Nantz recently picked up a DVD of that game from a website that sells old NFL broadcasts “for like $3,” he said.
He popped it in during our conversation and played the intro to the broadcast over the phone.
“What about the Cleveland Browns?” he says on the DVD, the enthusiasm evident in his voice as he sets the stage for Stram.
“Twenty-two new players. What do you expect we’ll see out of them today?”
After listening for a couple of minutes, I tell Nantz he sounds exactly the same all these years later.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe a little bit younger. But all these years later, it’s pretty close, right?”
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